The public tragedy of Arsene Wenger, staggering through his most desperate endgame at Arsenal

Wenger left Alexis Sanchez on the bench against Liverpool, much to the bemusement of most onlookers 

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For those who have viewed Arsene Wenger as a fixed point amid football's changing times, there is an air of tragedy about the way his endgame is playing out.

It certainly feels like an ending, given the shocking depths of Arsenal’s first half capitulation to Liverpool on Saturday and then the post-match conversation where the Wenger denials which would once give us cause to laugh and cheer his sheer cussedness sounded like the meanderings of a man staggering around in the depths of the forest, looking for the slightest shard of light.

The inquisition was dominated, of course, by the unfathomable and quite dreadful decision to keep Alexis Sanchez – the player who so concerned Jurgen Klopp that Liverpool’s mid-week training had been built around him – on the bench.

This had been so because Arsenal had wanted to go “more direct,” Wenger said, explaining to one journalist that “what I call direct is when the goalkeeper kicks direct to the striker.” It was hard to deduce whether this was sarcasm though it was frankly nonsense, given that nothing on the Anfield field suggested such a strategy, it is hard to recall Arsenal ever employing such a strategy and, even had they done so, Arsenal’s best player could have been accommodated with Oliver Giroud and Danny Welbeck.

In one of the Anfield back corridors, before leaving the stadium, Wenger seemed to hint that there was something he was not telling us about Sanchez . Asked had he dropped him for the ‘good of the team’, he laughed. “I will explain that later, one time. If you make a decision, you make a decision. People are always emotional in their analysis to this kind of decision.”

Sanchez certainly seems psychologically divorced from the team and sick to the stomach of the failure. That was patently clear when he arrived straight after the interval, gesticulating at and remonstrating with Nacho Monreal, whose positioning irritated him, much as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s did in Munich two weeks ago.

Sir Alex Ferguson was never averse to taking action against an ego like that. No-one, bar Eric Cantona, was bigger than his precious team. But Manchester United would usually go and win while the ego looked on from the side. And if the team was as pitifully meek as this Arsenal, then Ferguson would have been up on his feet, hauling players off after 20 minutes.

Wenger is not the master of his destiny in that way and a realisation of the fact is coursing through his team.  The most shocking part of Saturday’s first half was the sight of Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka, terrorised by Liverpool players who hunted in packs and mentally spent. Neither should have seen the half hour out. It is almost beside the point that Wenger’s full-backs were utterly absent when each of the decisive first half goals were scored, by Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

The gulf between the sides before Sanchez’s arrival triggered a modicum of professionalism took us back to a Wenger team’s 5-1 annihilation three years ago, by a Brendan Rodgers team who were 3-0 up inside 20 minutes. Yet even in the depths of that February 2014 defeat, we witnessed Jack Wilshere snapping at the Liverpool midfield like his life depended upon it. No, there had been no Arsenal quite like this in recent memory, within the L4 postcode.

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Wenger needs to ask himself if he is taking this team forward (Getty)

For Liverpool, the 3-1 win was a reminder of what their Firmino, Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Adam Lallana can bring, with Lallana best of them all. It is against so-called ‘lesser’ opposition who harry them that the side feel the absence of a hard-running midfielder. Burnley will be a far tougher proposition, at Anfield on Sunday.

By then, Wenger’s players will have faced the four-goal deficit against Bayern, though this top four battle seems his hardest ever. “No, not necessarily,” he said needless to say. Martin Keown observed on the BBC he could not remember anything quite as bad as this from his old side. So precisely which Arsenal has he been watching? Those who witnessed the defeats to Watford and Chelsea will tell you wasn't even the worst of this year.

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